Volume IX - The Unity of Religious Ideals
India, a land of extremes, was at one time very much absorbed in idealism. This reached its greatest heights when Brahmanism gave to the people an idealism, which made them recognize the face of God in man, and experience heaven on earth. And when this had touched its zenith, then came another epoch, an epoch of reaction, and that was the period of Buddha.
The mission of Buddha was quite unique in its character, and therefore, it stands quite apart from the many other religions of the world. People sometimes wonder if all religions are one; they can see a similarity between the Hebrew religion and Islam, and also the religion of Christ. But they cannot understand that what the Buddha taught could also be a religion, and that it could be one with all the others. The answer is that the work of all those who have served humanity in the form of religion has been of great importance, firstly because they had to give the same truth which every other servant of humanity has given, and secondly because they had to answer the demand of the time in a form suited to that particular time. In this they differed from their predecessors who had done the work in other ways. When idealism had reached its zenith in India, it did not fall to Buddha to teach an even greater idealism than the people already had. Indeed, in order to bring about a balance he had to give them a pill of disillusion. And in that way perhaps, at that time or even today, he might appear to be a teacher of quite a different philosophy and of a religion which differs from all other religions which are more idealistic. Yet at the same time no one can show one word in the teaching of Buddha which is opposed to any religion. His mission was to bring the birds of idealism flying in the air nearer to the earth, because the food for their bodies belonged to the earth.
Buddha, born as a prince, was recognized by the wise of that time as a soul of the finest possible feeling and the greatest depth of heart. Being born in a family where he could be taken good care of, they naturally kept all the sorrows and distress and troubles of life away from him. His parents wanted to give this soul the time to develop without being depressed by worldly troubles. It was not only the love of the parents, but it was the wisdom of destiny that brought up in this manner a soul who was born to sympathize with the world.
When after the best education the mind of the Buddha came to maturity, then one day he was allowed to go out and look at the world. This soul who had not been allowed to see much of the world and who had never known pain and distress and trouble was quite unaware of the experiences of life in the world. So when he went out for the first time and saw an aged man who could only walk with difficulty he asked, 'What is it?' His attendants said, 'It is age.' And he sympathized. And then he saw another person, worn out, tired and down-hearted. He said, 'What is the matter?' They answered, 'It is illness.' And he sympathized, saying, 'So that is illness!' There was another man who had lost his money and was in despair and poverty. Buddha asked, 'What is it?' They said, 'It is poverty.' And he sympathized feeling this man's condition. In short, this soul whose heart was open to sympathize with everyone felt that life has many limitations and that every limitation has its despair. And the number of limitations that he saw was so great that he wondered what remedy could be found for all these limitations.
In the first place he saw that human nature seeks for happiness, not because happiness is outside of man, but because it belongs to him. Then he saw that all these limitations make a barrier for man depriving him of the consciousness of this happiness which is his own. He also saw that even if all the different kinds of distress and all the causes of distress were removed, man would still not be free from distress. It is the nature of man to find happiness. No one in the world is looking for distress, although almost everyone in the world finds distress without seeking for it. But Gautama saw that the removing of these apparent limitations was not sufficient, but that it is the study of life, observation, analysis, that is most necessary. He found in the end that the analysis of life, a thorough analysis, clears one's reason from all darkness, and produces in it its own original light.
Man is distressed by looking at distress without having studied it. This is generally the case. Man is afraid of every distress that comes to him, and he partakes of it without first having faced it and studied it analytically. But at the same time Buddha saw that if there was any key to happiness, it came by throwing the light of analysis upon all the different situations of life. This Buddha taught in the form of religion, and today the thinkers of the modern world are beginning to find the same solution, which Buddha found over two thousand years ago. They call it psychoanalysis. It is the beginning of that which had already reached its summit in the highest idealism.
Buddha was the title of Gautama. He was called Buddha because his spirit expressed the meaning of the word Buddhi, which is the Sanskrit for reason, for the faculty in man which knows, which sees, and thereby distinguishes and discriminates between things and beings. In Buddhist terminology the Spirit of Guidance is called Bodhisattva, which means the essence of reason. Reason in its essence is of a liquid character; it is the cream of intelligence. When it is crystallized it becomes rigid. Intellectuality very often expresses a knowledge formed by reasons, most of them of rigid character. But the finer reasoning is subtle; the finer the reason, the less it can be explained in words. Therefore people with fine reasoning cannot very well put their reason into words. Reason in its essence is the depth of intelligence. The intelligence knows, not because it has learned; it knows because it knows. In this higher reason the Spirit of Guidance is conceived and from that fountain of reason all the great prophets have drunk.
In the teaching of true Buddhism, Buddha has never been considered as an exclusive personality. Buddha has been known to those who have understood his message rightly, as a man who attained the realization of that essence of reason, which is the fulfillment of life's purpose.
Worshipping Buddha does not mean that the Buddhist worships the personality of his spiritual master. He only means that if there is any object that most deserves worship, it is a human being. It is the one from whose heart the essence of reason, Buddhi, has risen as a spring. By this knowledge he recognizes the possibility for every soul, whatever be its grade of evolution, of attaining that bliss, trusting that the innermost being of every soul is divine.
Hope is the honey of life. If the knowledge of God does not give hope of attaining that divine bliss which can be attained in life, then that knowledge is of no use. Man may believe in God for years and yet may not be benefited by spiritual bliss, for spiritual bliss is not only in believing in God, but in knowing God.
Buddhi, which is subtle reasoning, is the path which leads to the goal, and its absence keeps a person in obscurity. As the sun is the source of light which shows outward things in life, so Buddhi is the inner source of light, which enables man to see life clearly, both inwardly and outwardly. The true aim of the disciples of Buddha has been not only to adhere to Buddha, to his name or his ideal, but by taking Buddha as an example, some day to become Buddha. This same idea is the secret of Sufism.
Buddha did not teach his followers to worship his own image, as they do today. In every Buddhist temple and monastery one finds statues of Buddha of all sizes, in gold, silver, brass, and stone – Buddha sitting cross-legged or standing in a mystic posture. No home of a Buddhist, no sacred place, is without his statue. And although the original four scriptures of the Buddhist faith have vanished long ago, yet the fragrance of his philosophy and moral could not be lost. Although it seems to be idolatry, yet his image, as a symbol, inspires not only his devotees but also every thoughtful mind; for it shows balance, quietude, peace, absorption within, purity of character, beauty of personality, gentleness, tenderness, a restful attitude, and perfect wisdom.
Just as today in modern civilized countries the statues of heroes, royalties, commanders of armies, politicians, poets, writers, and musicians are set up everywhere, and the statue of Liberty reminds America of national freedom, so to a Buddhist the statue of Buddha speaks of spiritual liberation. Why should it be regarded as being any worse if the Buddhists have the statue of their inspirer before them, whose very image elevates their soul toward the highest ideals, and the life of renunciation and self-denial that their teacher led?
Buddhism, being the rival and the child of Brahmanism, could
not very well leave out the influence of its parent religion.
Although Buddhism denies the belief in all that is not proved
by logic, such as God, the soul, mediation, or the hereafter,
yet the image-worship of the Brahmins still exists among Buddhists
in the worship of Buddha, and Buddhists also believe in reincarnation
and the law of Karma.